Friday, August 12, 2022

Botswana Gov’t might have to foot UNDP wage bill

The government of Botswana might find itself saddled with a huge wage bill after the United Nations Development Program refused to endorse a hastily prepared agreement that was meant to quell the raging legal battle between the United Nations organ and its former employees.

Government has been struggling to deactivate the diplomatic time bomb after the UNDP refused to obey an Industrial Court judgement, which ordered it to pay its former employees over P160, 000 in owed severance benefits.

The employees had dragged UNDP to court demanding severance benefits that were due to them after their contracts expired. ?

In November 2010, Industrial Court Judge Justice Legwaila ruled that the UNDP should pay Puso Kethuse, Geoffrey Masilo and Olivia Adams over P160, 000 as severance benefits for the period 31 July 2009 to 10 June 2002, during which they were under the employment of UNDP.

?The UNDP ignored the application, disregarded Justice Legwaila’s ruling and never bothered to inform government about the case. The Industrial Court later issued a writ of execution authorising the employees to attach UNDP property.

Deputy Sherriff Anelle Van Heerden later attached three UNDP vehicles, a Toyota Land Cruiser (registration 06 CD 005), a Nissan Patrol (registration 06 CD 026) and another Land Cruiser (registration 06 CD 007).

?But she was never able to remove the vehicles from UNDP premises, as she was threatened with arrest every time she tried to do so. UNDP even snubbed a subsequent order issued by High Court Registrar Godfrey Nthomiwa.

Government, which was all along kept in the dark, only joined the fray after the case reached the public domain. In the aftermath, Foreign Affairs minister Phandu Skelemani and Attorney General Athalia Molokomme found themselves running helter-skelter, literally begging UNDP to respect the industrial Court ruling.

But UNDP refused to listen, reminding Botswana about its diplomatic commitments and refusing to negotiate until the Industrial Court ruling is revoked. Skelemani and Molokomme started toying with the idea of applying for a rescission order nullifying Justice Legwaila’s ruling. The idea was abandoned after it emerged that it would evoke a political backlash, as questions were asked as to whether government represents the interests of the employees or those of the UNDP. Skelemani and Molokomme, both lawyers, were also aware that the rescission application might fail because UNDP never responded to Justice Legwaila’s ruling.

On Friday last week, the negotiations reached a breakthrough after UNDP agreed to a settlement. A team of legal and diplomatic experts, led by Stephen Tiroyakgosi of the AG’s chambers, hastily prepared an agreement and put it to the parties to sign. The agreement was quick to point out that UNDP and its property, funds and assets enjoy immunity from legal process in Botswana, as per Article IX of an agreement that Botswana signed with the UNDP.

The agreement bound the employees not to seek to enforce the writ of execution that Justice Legwaila issued against the UNDP, and that they should waive any rights or claims arising from his judgement. It was also stated that the agreement should not be construed as an admission or concession of any wrong doing by either parties. It also barred either party from making any statements to anyone in connection with the said agreement.

UNDP also endorsed government’s decision to apply for Justice Legwaila’s ruling to be rescinded. In the agreement, Botswana also undertook to foot the legal bills incurred in the case. It further states that no part of the agreement should in any way be considered to be a waiver of any of the privileges and immunities that UNDP enjoys.

However, Skelemani and Molokomme’s bonhomie was short lived, as UNDP refused to sign the agreement.

The negotiating team found itself right back where they had started. Subsequent efforts to refine the agreement and make it more favourable to UNDP failed to bear fruit.

Sunday Standard is informed that government is worried that the issue might evoke a political volcano, and a decision has been made for government to pay the owed employees.

However, this action might open flood gates, as Sunday Standard is informed that there are more legal suits and claims that are pending against the UNDP.

On Friday, Skelemani said negotiations are still ongoing. He was unable to shed more light on the issue, referring further questions to the AG’s chambers.

Molokomme’s phone could not be reached, while Tiroyakgosi’s mobile rang unanswered.


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